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Once synagog, then church, 1,600-year-old Istanbul mosque restored

***Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Hyetert.***
The recently restored Lala Hayrettin Mosque in Turkey has a very unique history. It may be the only place of worship in the world that has served as a synagog, then a church, after finally becoming a mosque.

One of the oldest places of worship in Istanbul with its 1,600-year history, which served as a synagog when it was originally built, converted into an Orthodox than a Catholic church and then became a mosque 30 years after the conquest of Istanbul after it fell into disuse, was restored in accordance with its original form under the coordination of the Regional Directorate of Foundations.

The courtyard of the restored Lala Hayrettin Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug. 5, 2022. (Sabah Photo)

The restored mosque was reopened for worship during Friday prayers yesterday.

Erhan Sarışın stated that the brickwork on the wall remains of the mosque bears the characteristics of stone masonry in the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

A priest’s tomb in its foundation

Istanbul Environmental Culture and Historical Artifacts Protection Association (ISTED) President Erhan Sarışın said: “There is a tomb belonging to the Christian priests of the period in a tunnel that goes down to the base of the place of worship. There are stairs to go down there. Unfortunately, these tombs were also destroyed by treasure hunters during illegal excavations.”

Sarışın explained some of the mosque’s history unique history: “This is a building that first served as a synagogue for Jews, then served as a place of worship to Orthodox and Catholic Christians, and after 1480, for Muslims. Its history is 1,600 years old. There are Latin markings on the square brick stones we found inside the church. When we had it translated, we saw that there were stamps from the fifth century. This is evidence that the structure was built in the A.D. 400s. Also, Christian sources say that this place was established as a church in the 400s.”

Informing that the ruined church building was converted into a mosque in the 1480s by Lala Hayrettin Pasha and put into service, Sarışın emphasized that the mosque has an important historical feature because of the presence of some of the most important manuscripts of the Quran.

In waiting since 1935

When the Lala Hayrettin Mosque was closed after a law enacted in 1935 on the classification of mosques and masjids and the closure of those that were needed, the minaret, the wood and tiles on its roof were sold by the Foundations Administration of the period in 1937, Sarışın stated that after this date, the mosque remained in ruins until today.

The mosque was further damaged and came to be in ruins because of illegal excavations. “When we found it in 2018, there were nearly 50 trees in it and 10 trucks of garbage came out of the structure when we tried to clean it. Later, our Regional Directorate of Foundations took on the project. We found a charitable businessperson to finance the restoration. After a year of cleaning, design and restoration work, the mosque is now in its present condition,” Sarışın explained.

In our mother’s honor

Melih Bilgili, who helped rebuild the mosque in honor of his mother said: “My mother Emine Bilgili passed away. I was planning to build a mosque. But then I decided to restore a historical mosque instead. Together with my brother Osman Bilgili, we decided to restore a mosque that is an heirloom of our ancestors and to be instrumental in opening it for worship. Thus, we now have protected the works of our ancestors.”


Sabah Gazetesi

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